You may have started practicing yoga for any number of reasons: maybe you wanted to become more flexible or more fit, maybe you heard that it was good for lowering stress or helping you sleep, or maybe you have a friend who loved it and urged you to try it.
Either way, after attending a few classes, you might have started to notice that there is more to the practice of yoga than just the poses in your class. Your teacher may have mentioned a person you’ve never heard of, or may have spoken in another language or perhaps you wondered why so many poses are called “Warriors” when you heard that yoga was supposed to be peaceful.
This was my experience – the more I learned about yoga, the more I wanted to learn (and this is still true today). I decided to put together a short list of a few of my favourite books for you, in case you’re in the same place that I was. Even though there are only 3 books, they cover a wide variety of topics, and I feel that they are a great starting place. Read on to find out which books I have chosen, as well as why I think they are important.
Book 1 – The Path of the Yoga Sutras by Nicolai Bachman
The Yoga Sutras explain so much about what yoga really is, so I think that they are the best starting point. This book is not a direct translation of the Sutras, instead, it gives an explanation about the core concepts from the Sutras. I would also recommend reading a true translation (maybe the Feuerstein translation), however this is a great place to start to understand the purpose of yoga. It is clearly written in simple language, and gives practical examples to use in every day life. This book was given to me as a gift when I was going through my first teach training program, and it really helped me to understand the key concepts of a yogic lifestyle.
Book 2 – Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation by Stephen Mitchell
I struggled with a couple of other translations of the Bhagavad Gita before this one was recommended to me and I was really able to connect with the content. This story is one that has been transmitted through oral tradition for centuries, and it outlines some of the values of the culture in which yoga was born. One thing that I have truly come to love about this story is that it explains how it is possible to be a warrior and to still practice yoga. In fact, using discernment and fighting for what is right is a key duty of yoga. In many modern yoga circles, the values of love and light are held high above all others, but there is a place for what is right, not just what is light.
Book 3 – Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
I am including this last book for use as a reference. When I first started practicing, I had a book that outlined yoga poses that would be used in a typical hatha class and I found it so helpful to be able to go home after class to study and learn more about the poses. At some point I leant that book out and it was not returned, so I am sharing something similar since I do not believe that the other book is in publication any longer. Yoga Anatomy shares both the most commonly used English name for each pose, along with the Sanskrit name and pronunciation guide. It also shares an image of the pose and some anatomical qualities. I do not advocate for reading this book cover to cover, but it is a great way to learn a bit more about your favourite movements and poses.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I feel that these books are a great starting point, they are in no way a comprehensive guide to yoga. My favourite teacher once told me that if I really want to understand any of the important yoga texts, I should read at least 3 different translations (more if I could find them) because each person has a different interpretation and therefore each translation is biased.
If you are just starting out, remember that everyone starts somewhere and you can’t read everything at the same time (I am still trying to learn this lesson). It takes time to read and digest new material before you are able to really integrate it into your life. Each time you learn something new, take time to sit with the information before moving on (I know that this is easier said than done).
There are countless books about yoga, and there are so many different aspects of the practice to be explored that I believe I will continue to study and learn forever. If you are a more advanced practitioner and are already familiar with everything here, I would encourage you to continue your journey of learning and exploration as well.
Feel free to get in touch if you have questions, recommendations, or just want to chat about your experience with any of these books.